Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 9

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Part 9: ‘Zayin’

“Endurance,” explains Glaswegian minister William Barclay, “is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.” Perhaps this thought is what lies at the foundation of the psalmist’s next stanza of Psalm 119. ‘Zayin’—or seventh Hebrew letter—is the ‘z’-sounding letter that is also a word meaning weapon or sword and food/nourishment. The psalmist seems to have used this letter to explore suffering as a theme for these eight zayin-headed verses. It’s a stanza of the paradoxical, though. In the face of suffering, of enduring mockery, of indignation against the apparent mastery of evil over good we hear of hope, of comfort and even of a song.

Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. / My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. / The arrogant mock me without restraint, but I do not turn from your law. / I remember your ancient laws, O LORD, and I find comfort in them. / Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law. / Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge. / In the night I remember your name, O LORD, and I will keep your law. / This has been my practice: I obey your precepts” (verses 49-56).

Suffering becoming glory. It’s an enigma, a puzzle, and a conundrum. It goes against our intuition. We want to avoid pain and heartbreak, not endure through it to reach some distant joy. Yet there it is, both the sword and nourishment contained in Zayin, are laid out for us to help us triumph over our common dilemma. How can the psalmist—not to mention we—access this great paradoxical prescription so that he and we can weather the deepest difficulties of life with the confidence that God will preserve us?

The key is Jesus. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering…Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed…and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand” (sections of Isaiah 53).

Jesus stepped into the deepest crevasse of suffering known to humankind—the chaos of bearing God’s just wrath against humanity’s rebellion. We want a just God. Here He is, and here Jesus is made to die an exponential death for your rebellion and mine, times the billions who have and ever will live on this planet. But Jesus is God in flesh and so the sword, though it caused untold suffering for Him, could not extinguish His being.

That is the message of Easter. “He is risen. He is risen indeed!” Jesus’ body broken like crisp bread, and His blood draining from His wounds like spilled wine, become for us the nourishment after the suffering. Trusting in the work of Jesus to solve our troublesome dilemma is what the Spirit of God infused into the psalmist’s pen so many years ago.

Jesus Himself, after His resurrection, helped two of His distraught and discouraged followers see that all of Scripture is about this amazing plan of rescue God devised for humanity. “He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

There it is again: suffering then glory. Jesus, in His larger than life way, takes the greatest suffering so that we may be infused with His life and become able to bear our portion of this earth’s trouble. But the suffering is only a bothersome interlude—it has no lasting grip on us just as it had no ultimate hold on Christ. The hope of glory to come that God has promised was on the tip of the psalmist’s pen and is ours for the asking too.

The Apostle Paul wrote, sensing the end of his life was at hand, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (II Timothy 4:7,8).

Suffering’s grip is weak compared to the comfort of the Father’s hand. Let’s step into that great loving hand today, and as the lyrics of a current song say, “Just be held.”

(Photo Credit: By James Emery from Douglasville, United States – Bread and Wine (Cracker and Juice)_2048, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35135837)

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #30

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Paradox Prayer (Paraphrase of Psalm 146)

Father God, I feel so glad when I think of You. My heart warms, my soul awakens, and my lips want to find a way to express my thankfulness to You. The best use for my life is to seize every opportunity to praise You.

There’s no point in praising princes, applauding the rich and famous, or flattering those who hint they have the power to do something for me. They’re just mortal like I am. Their glory passes, their lives end, and the memory of them eventually evaporates.

But You, Maker of all, You are Someone worth praising! In You we can put our trust and know it is well-placed. Not only is our unadorned simpleness not scorned by You, but You are the God of and for the weak. It’s a holy paradox.

You uphold the cause of the oppressed. You ensure that ultimate justice will be served one day, that the oppressed will be raised in glorious honour.

You give food to the hungry—not sparingly, but with prodigal generosity at the Great Banquet You are preparing even now.

You set prisoners free. Redemption frees those of us who have been in the worst kind of bondage, imprisoned in our senseless sin. Since Christ has taken the punishment that was our lot, we walk away from those chains free.

You give sight to the blind. We had not seen that the paths we had chosen would lead us into destruction. But as we admit our blindness, Spirit of Truth, You open our eyes to see there is more to life than the visible here and now.

You lift up those who are bowed down. We are all wounded in some way. Life leaves scars and weights that seem too heavy to bear. But You, LORD, are the Great Healer and Comforter. You lift us up in Your great arms of love and carry us to our journey’s end—the new beginning.

You love the righteous. The only truly Righteous One is Your Son, Jesus, whom You love with an infinite, inexhaustible and joyful love. Yet somehow, as we accept Christ’s gift of forgiveness, His righteousness covers our nakedness like a magnificent royal garment. Dressed this way, we enter Your presence in complete confidence that we are loved and accepted by You.

You watch over the alien. Those who have become refugees from society’s godless norms, who have faced its rejection, find refuge in You. You welcome us with open arms and give us citizenship in Your eternal Kingdom.

You sustain the fatherless and the widow. Great Father and Husband of our souls, we who have felt lost and alone find You to be all and more. You provide for our every need, Bread of Life and Living Water. We thrive under Your sustaining care.

Upholding, giving, freeing, revealing, lifting, loving, watching, and sustaining—LORD God You reign forever and for all generations. We praise You!

(Photo Credit: By JFXie (Flickr: O Praise Him) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)